Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Old St Peter's Basilica: Caught in the Della Rovere-Medici Crossfire

 Julius II had  been the cardinal-nephew of Sixtus IV Della Rovere.  Sixtus who had headed the Franciscan Order before his election, named a number of his nephews Cardinals and they, in turn, had spent much of his papacy fighting one another for power and influence (and money).  Most of them weren’t worth spit but Guiliano was a cut above the rest and proved himself competent enough to hold several important offices in the Roman Curia as well as being entrusted with a variety of bishoprics—holding eight at the same time, though being an absentee pastor in each of his dioceses.  It was common to name important Roman officials to dioceses not only in Italy but throughout Europe so that they could collect the salaries as a means of financial support.  This drew money from all over Europe into the Roman economy and empowered these Curia officials to build the palaces and  churches of Renaissance Rome. 
Speaking of Roman palaces, another of Sixtus’ cardinal nephews, Raffaele Riario hosted an evening of gambling at which Franceschetto Cybo, bastard son of Pope Innocent VIII (the current pope and successor to Giuliano’s uncle, Sixtus IV), lost 15,000 ducats (Two and a half million modern dollars).  Not a lucky night.  The pope asked Cardinal Riario to return the money, but the Cardinal explained that he had already spent the money to finance the construction of a new palace—the beautiful palazzo della Cancelleria near the piazza Campo dei Fiori.  If it is any consolation to the memory of Innocent VIII, the palace is still owned by the Vatican and it serves today to hold various administrative offices.  It truly is one of the most lovely buildings in Rome—won all in a night’s gambling.   As for Cybo, he was not a cardinal as he was married (to a Medici—rivals of Pope Sixtus, Cardinal Giuliano, and other Della Roveres.  Mortal enemies as we shall see.  While unable to be made a Cardinal, Cybo was entrusted with several military and administrative offices, including the governorship of Rome, that provided him a handsome income.  He was, after all, the Pope’s son. In 1490 he attempted to steal the papal treasury to finance his extensive gambling debts, but as Dad was still pope, he was not prosecuted for his lack of good judgment.  One of his own sons would become a Cardinal—not only was he the grandson of a pope (Innocent VIII) but remember he was a Medici on his mother’s side, so one of his uncles was destined to reign as Leo X—the pope at the time of Luther’s saying that he had enough of the whole Roman Church. “Everything is for sale in Rome.”  When you see this sequence of events, can you blame Luther?  Well, we will talk about that in future postings.
We are still not ready to return to Julius yet as there is one more important story about his Cardinal Cousin—Rafaelle “lucky at cards” Riario.  The seventeen year old Cardinal stopped in Florence on his way from Pisa where he was studying canon law (how would you like to have a Cardinal in your canon law class?) to Rome.  Unbeknown to the lad, his visit was used as a pretext by his uncle the Pope and several others to lure the Medici brothers—Lorenzo and Giuliano—out of the Medici Palace to attend High Mass at the Cathedral.  It would have been considered rude, a snub to the Cardinal, to miss the mass in his honor.  The elevation of the host was used as a signal for the conspirators to attack. Giuliano was stabled to death on the Cathedral floor; Lorenzo, seriously ( but not fatally) wounded escaped to the sacristy where, once in, the doors were barred for his protection. The plot failed as the Florentines supported the Medici and in the subsequent bloodshed many of the conspirators were killed—including the Archbishop of Pisa, Francesco Salviati, who was hung naked from the walls of Florence’s town hall, the Palazzo della Signoria.  The young Cardinal seems to have been only a pawn in his uncle’s game and, though arrested, he was shortly set at liberty.  In fact Lorenzo and Pope Sixtus soon made up.  In Renaissance Italy, attempted murder was no reason to break off a friendship.  It was done all the time.   But the plot does tell you something about this Della Rovere family.  They played for big stakes and they played for keeps.  Well, back now to Julius, but also note tht  Raffaele Riario was also the patron who first brought Michelangelo to Rome. 
Julius, or more properly at this pont, Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, also had his ups and downs as we have seen.  He fled to France after his enemy Rodrigo Borgia was elected Alexander VI.  In France he became buddies with Charles VIII whom he persuaded to invade Italy in hopes of deposing Alexander.  Though Charles did get to Rome, Alexander out maneuvered Giuliano’s plan and Charles, instead of convoking a Council to depose Alexander, moved on to fight a war with Naples in a vain hope of adding it to his realms.  In the second 1503 conclave, however, Cardinal Della Rovere’s fortunes improved and he was elected pope.
As I pointed out, the Della Roveres were strong people.  The family had been poor until uncle Sixtus had become pope and started making all the nephews Cardinals.  They were scrappers and they didn’t mind a fight to get what they wanted.  Indeed Julius himself loved a fight—a real fight in which he could put on armor and get on a horse and go out and bash some heads. In a 1506 battle for Bologna, the pope was one of the first up the scaling ladders and over the city wall.  He was a man’s man which isn’t to say that he didn’t enjoy having a man in bed.  While he had an illegitimate daughter, Julius seems to have been either gay or bi-sexual.  I have heard stories that he made one of his lovers the Archbishop of Ravenna but I can’t find this anywhere and I wonder if the sources are confusing him with Julius III whose lover was a street urchin, Innocenzo Ciochhi Del Monte, whom, in his infatuation, he made Cardinal. 
As I said yesterday, Julius’ great passion was for his projected tomb and that returns us to the fate of Old St Peter’s and the Destiny of New Saint Peter’s. Before we pick up the story of the Basilica, however, one more thing about Julius.  As part of the terms under which he was elected pope, Julius had promised to convoke a Council of the Church to address the need for reform.  (Ya think there was a need for Reform???)  He delayed this as long as possible, but finally on July 18, 1511 he convoked the Council to meet at the Lateran on April 19, the following year.  Finally fifteen Cardinals, two Latin Patriarchs, ten archbishops, fifty-six bishops, various abbots, the generals of the mendicant orders, and ambassadors from various states convened on May 3rd 1512.  Giles of Viterbo, the charismatic General of the Augustinian Friars preached the opening sermon—a bombastic demand for reform in root and branch.  Julius would die the following February, escaping any personal worries about having to reform. 
the image today is Giuliano de Medici, killed in the Pazzi Conspiracy due to the rivalry between the Della Rovere family and the Medici. 

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